Since the formation of ancient civilizations, every culture has created some myth or folktale to explain the mystique of the ocean, and to this day humankind returns to the ocean for balance and well-being. Ancient Egyptians understood the healing powers of long soaks in seawater. Greek philosophers, including Euripides, Hippocrates, Plato and Herodotus, praised the ocean’s therapeutic value for physical and mental health.


Origin of Life

Today, we still desire the stress-relieving and balancing experience of relaxing at the seashore while our worries melt away. The ocean consistently restores a feeling of well-being and vitality. 

This widespread draw holds a deeper meaning, which may be explained by the scientific community’s belief that plant life originated in the deepest parts of the sea. At the beginning of Earth’s existence, the only area that provided nourishment and protection from harsh ultraviolet rays was far beneath the surface of the ocean. This nurturing environment allowed marine life to begin and flourish. Sea flora emitted oxygen that eventually led to the formation of a protective ozone layer, which allowed more advanced sea and eventually land plants to evolve. Some may say our natural attraction to the sea for healing and relaxation is a natural attraction to the origin of life.

In more recent history, scientific research explained this instinctual attraction by proving seawater can indeed restore balance to an organism. At the turn of the 20th century, French physiologist René Quinton established that seawater contains all naturally occurring, indexed trace elements and minerals. The only other naturally occurring fluid that contains all of these vital elements is our blood plasma. Not only do both of these fluids contain all trace elements and minerals, the quantities of minerals are nearly identical. Seawater is so close to our bodies’ internal environment that if white blood cells are removed from the body and placed in a sterile seawater solution, they are able to maintain normal cell function for up to five weeks; this is the only solvent that will accommodate continued cellular activity.

“The living organism is a sea aquarium in which a few billion cells are bathing,” said Quinton. This natural multi-mineral compound is the perfect medium to restore balance of important elements, such as zinc, magnesium, calcium and potassium.


underwater life

Marine Healing

As Quinton’s research gained acclaim and the mystery of the ocean was supported with proof and data, the medical community began to construct a defined program of marine healing. In 1899, the first thalassotherapy center opened in the Brittany region of France. The term thalassotherapy refers to seawater healing in a medically supervised environment as a form of preventive or curative health care, utilizing seawater, seaweed, marine mud, sand and other marine substances.

Throughout the last century in Europe, thalassotherapy centers have gained popularity and credibility as the most natural source of complementary health care. So much so, the French health care system covers a portion of medical care when a center is attended.

Today, there are more than 45 thalassotherapy centers in France alone, which are visited by those who seek general well-being or medical treatment for specific conditions and diseases. True thalassotherapy centers have a spa facility with a medical wing and living quarters, built right on the seacoast. A separate plumbing system pumps seawater into the spa treatment facility and connects to all spa equipment throughout the center. Most thalassotherapy centers also have a large central pool filled with heated seawater where patients are advised to immerse themselves between scheduled services, so they can spend the maximum amount of time enveloped in this curative marine serum.

Upon arrival, thalassotherapy-center guests have a doctor’s appointment for a physical exam to determine what the patient will be treated for. A treatment program can address an array of conditions, and can range from stress reduction, immune-system boosting, pain management, accident rehabilitation, depression, anorexia, prenatal and postpartum programs, cellulite and weight reduction, rheumatism and arthritis, and preventive health.

Once the patient’s needs are analyzed, a treatment program is constructed and can last from two days to two weeks. The patient’s program comprises a daily combination of seawater and seaweed body treatments.


woman enjoying spa

Cellular Function

How does this single resource positively affect so many different people with so many different ailments? It stems from Quinton’s scientific research proving seawater contains all of the trace elements and minerals our bodies need. Trace minerals and elements activate most biochemical and enzymatic reactions that occur within the body. All cellular functions occur because of specific enzymatic reactions, whether a cell is producing ATP (energy), a red blood cell is carrying oxygen, or a melanocyte is producing pigment.

As each of these biochemical reactions occurs, the enzyme responsible for the process needs a catalyst to begin each specific cell activity. Trace elements, found perfectly balanced in seawater, are the catalysts that activate enzymes so all of these biochemical reactions can take place. 

Balancing the mineral levels in the body is vital for optimum cellular function. When there are trace-element deficiencies within the body, cellular functions slow down. When our cells become sluggish, this creates an internal environment where imbalance can occur very easily. Once cells are demineralized, nutrition that is ingested cannot be completely assimilated by cells and used by the body.

In thalassotherapy centers, the primary mode of treatment is trace element and mineral absorption via the skin. Trace elements and minerals are very small; they are the smallest form of matter that exists.

When seawater is warmed to between 96 and 102 degrees, the minerals become ionized, or negatively charged. The surface of our skin is positively charged, so due to the attraction between negative and positive charges, the minerals move to the skin very quickly. Because minerals have a charge opposite to that of our skin, and because they are so minute in size, they are absorbed very quickly by the skin.

Once absorbed by the skin, they make their way through the tissues and into the bloodstream—so a soak in warm seawater can infuse the entire body with minerals. Soaking in seawater is the fastest way to get a large dose of minerals into the system, because the skin is the body’s largest organ. The skin provides a very large surface area with which to absorb minerals.

Cellular energy is also essential to expel metabolic waste and toxins. Cellular stagnancy causes symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, edema, slowed metabolism, poor microcirculation, a repressed immune system and poor cellular exchange,which can lead to greater long-term health risks and skin conditions.

By introducing the perfect combination of minerals and trace elements, the body is equipped with critical elements to function efficiently, and proper balance is maintained.

When the body is balanced, it can proficiently regulate its own systems. This is an important first step for any treatment program where long-term results are sought.

 salt and minerals



Thalassotherapy is awonderful remedy for those fortunate fewwho regularly travel abroad or reside in Europe, where thalassotherapy is part of the culture. But what about the common spa guest? Thalassotherapy centers are next to nonexistent in the U.S., because coastlines are typically too polluted to use for healing purposes.

However, there are ways to give spa guests a powerful source of marine remineralization: The use of high-quality spa products that revolve around ocean-derived active ingredients can bring the sea and its natural therapies into the spa. A marine-based line should have methods of naturally preserving the amazing active ingredients the ocean concentrates, so the benefits of the sea are retained and the results delivered by thalassotherapy centers can be replicated.

Spas equipped with hydrotherapy tubs can easily offer a replica of balneotherapy treatments. Balneotherapy is a soak complete with underwater massage performed by powerful jets. Balneotherapy treatments are classic, staple procedures offered at most European thalassotherapy centers.

By simply adding a seawater mineral concentrate to a spa hydrotherapy tub, a true thalassotherapy treatment can be enjoyed by your guest. A soak in a recreated sea automatically alleviates feelings of mental and physical stress and fatigue, while physically improving skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, severe dehydration and acne. Muscle tension and chronic back pain can be improved or even alleviated with regular use.



Spa from the Sea

If hydrotherapy equipment is not available, there are other options. Body-mask gels made with seawater are available and offer a body-wrap version of a thalassotherapy soak. To offer the benefits of thalassotherapy during a massage, massage balms containing high levels of seawater-derived trace elements are available to elevate the results of therapeutic massage.

Seawater concentrates are also available for home use and make an excellent post-massage therapy. Because balancing mineral levels catalyze all cellular reactions, a seawater soak will help the body rid itself of lactic acids and other stored metabolic waste after a massage session, so the result of a skillful massage will be more thorough and long-lasting.

Those interested in maintaining a balanced physical and emotional state can soak in seawater weekly or even every day, if needed. Seawater soaks and wraps are ideal when used at heated temperatures. When warmed to the range of 96 to 102 degrees, the minerals become ionized, or negatively charged, and are absorbed rapidly by the positively charged surface of the skin. The skin should remain in contact with the seawater preparation for 15 to 20 minutes to allow maximum mineral absorption.


coral reefscape

The Ocean, at Home

Thalassotherapy has made a big splash in our industry, and offering a treatment program that incorporates this unique philosophy will boost the results of any massage or massage therapy practice.

After just one bath or wrap, a profound difference in physical, emotional and mental well-being is obvious. With the availability of spa-replicated thalassotherapy, well-being no longer has to involve a journey across the ocean.


About the Author

Angela Eriksen-Stanley is director of education for Phytomer. She has been a trainer for more than 15 years, sharing her expertise in esthetics, body modalities and thalassotherapy-based spa care. She attends annual international education summits to expand her knowledge of products and techniques. The combination of continued education and teaching others fosters her passion for spa offerings.